Bringing Wine Home from Europe

Worldwide terrorism has changed our lives in many ways, none of them good.  There are many losses greater than the difficulty in bringing wine home with you from your European vacation.  It used to be easy: get a case that would fit in the overhead rack and tote it along with you on the plane.  Needless to say, that won’t work these days, especially if your destination is in the United States.  So what can you do if you want to bring back home some of the wines you tasted?

  • Ship them. This way works but is in general a bad idea.  It costs a lot to ship a case of wine across the Atlantic and it can’t be sent directly to your home.  It goes to the airport into customs.  You have to go deal with the functionaries there, pick it up and pay the duties.  This is a lot of money and a lot of work just to be able to say you bought it at the vineyard.
  • Put some in your luggage. This works but the technique is limited and risky.  Each person coming into the US is able to bring two bottles, so a couple can carry four.  If – some if – you have room in your valise for four bottles, you are trusting the gentle handlers out on the tarmac not to toss, drop or otherwise maul your bags.  Good luck.  If you are going to stash a few bottles this way, you can buy resealable padded plastic bags that protect your clothes but also take up more space.  We often pack some bubble wrap and enclose the bottles ourselves.  Place them between layers of soft clothing if you carry them this way.

Do you want your wine to be in this pile?

  • Buy a case and take it home as luggage. You can buy a case (meant for shipping with styrofoam or cardboard) in a store or at a winery and fill it up as you go.  Then, on your return trip, check them in.  You will definitely have to pay duty on the number of bottles over your limit when you get to the US, but that may not be onerous.  You still have to contend with the aforementioned baggage handlers, so definitely mark the case as fragile.  But you have to lug the case with you in your travels and then carry it through the airports on your trip.  And some airlines or airports won’t accept cases of wine, because of the fear of terrorists.
  • Buy it back home. If you’re at a winery and you particularly like a wine, ask the person serving you about the name of their American distributor(s).  The bigger and better known the winery, the more likely they are to have one.  You can call them on your return and find out where you can buy the wine in question in the States.  Unfortunately, that great little find you found in an unknown little village may not have an American representative.  Worse yet, if they do export, these wineries are more likely to sell only their higher volume, lower quality wines on the world market because they don’t press enough of their top wines to attract a distributor.  You won’t find that special gem at home.

There is one other alternative.  Appreciate the wines you taste in Europe while you’re there.  Savor the tastes and the aromas and the memories.  That’s one of the beauties of travelling through Wine Country in the first place.


The town of Carcassonne sits among several different winemaking regions, with Minervoix to the northeast; Corbières to the southeast;  and Gaillac to the west.  If you are on a wine tasting trip in the Southwest of France, you should definitely save time for a stop in Carcassonne.  In fact, the town is a worthwhile destination, no matter what brings you to the French Southwest.

The Cité of Carcassonne. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

The lower town is no different than many others in France, but the massive rock to the north is a wonder.  It is a classic medieval fortress city essentially undisturbed since the late 13th century.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  In fact, by the mid-19th century the town had fallen into such disrepair that the French were prepared to tear it all down.  The hero of this tale is Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, an architect and antiquarian who made it his life’s work to restore structures that had suffered over the centuries.  He led the project to restore Carcassonne to its previous glory and although his vision was as much romantic as historical, the restored town is not only a monument to French history but also to the memory of Viollet-le-Duc.

While there had been a town along the Aude river since Roman times, Carcassonne achieved a prominent place in history during a crusade against believers in a proto-Protestant religion known as Catharism, considered heretical by the Popes of the 12th and 13th century.  The fortifications that can be seen today, called La Cité, were first erected to keep the papal armies out.  The local nobleman who ruled the city decided to give it up without a fight and when all the wars were over, Carcassonne had become a part of kingdom of France.

The entrance to the Château Comtal.

As a visitor, you can walk around the stone streets and along the ramparts.  It doesn’t require much imagination to see the invaders below, holding Carcassonne in siege.   In fact, anyone who has ever dreamed of knights in shining armor and their damsels in flowing robes will feel a bit of romantic memory wash over them while inside the walls.  The Château Comtal, or the Count’s Castle, is one of the sights not to miss.  Here you will get a feeling for how the people of the time actually lived.  Also, the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, built before the age of the Cathars, is a testimonial to the glory of the Middle Ages.

A café in one of Carcassonne’s squares.

Of course, Carcassonne is a tourist destination so there is the usual array of stores selling t-shirts and other souvenirs, but that shouldn’t keep you away.  This town is a piece of history that has been lovingly restored, and the 21st century gets along quite well with the 13th.  Have lunch at an outdoor café, drinking the local wines and eating the contemporary fare and pretend that you are gathered with townsfolk to fete the Viscount and his court.  You and your inner child will be glad you did.


This is going to get a little complicated.  In the heart of Tuscany’s Chianti Classico region there is a castle named Brolio (  It is owned by the noble Ricasoli family and they make wine there.  Some of their wines are named Brolio and others are called Ricasoli and some say both, hence the complication.  If you want to visit, go to the town of Gaiole and look for signs pointing to either name.

The Brolio Castle.  Photo courtesy of Ricasoli.

Power Tasting is all about going wine tasting and we’ll get to that in a bit.  But we can’t overlook the fact that the tasting room is at the foot of a hill and on top of that hill is a castle.  It is a major tourist attraction in the region.  It is rather grand, with beautiful gardens, and it is available for tours.  There is even a restaurant there where you can dine in some splendor.  If your wine tasting schedule allows the time, you really ought to see it.

Photo courtesy of

Brolio/Ricasoli makes a lot of wines, some of which are available on store shelves in the United States.  The best known, naturally, is their Chianti Classico.  [A few words about Chianti, since we’re getting a little complicated. Lots of areas in Tuscany make Chianti but only those in a specified region around the villages of Radda, Greve and Gaiole make the Classico, known for the black rooster (gallo nero) on the label. A Chianti Classico must be at least 75% Sangiovese and up to 10% Canaiolo, with the rest usually filled in with international varietals. Is the Classico any better than any other?  Who’s to say? (Well, Lucie thinks so.)   But it is marketed way better.]

Brolio’s top wine is the Chianti Classico Gran Selezione, which is rarely available for tasting.  However, the Riserva is there and is definitely worth trying.  To our tastes, the best part of a tasting at Brolio are the wines generally less associated with their name(s).  Among these are their 100% Sangiovese wines, which can’t be called Brunello because they’re not from Montalcino but are made the same way.  We particularly liked their Vin Santo dessert wine.

An unusual attraction of wine tasting at Brolio is the stemware used in the tasting room.  They are light and beautifully shaped and add an unexpected pleasure to a wine tasting visit.  We thought of buying some and bring them home, but they are so thin and fragile, we changed our mind.

Overall, a visit to Brolio/Ricasoli is an event.  If there were nothing more than the tasting room and the wines alone, it would be very satisfying.  There are the castle, the vineyards, the restaurant, the tours which taken altogether can be a bit overwhelming.  We’re not trying to discourage anyone from visiting Brolio – far from it.  It’s just that if you want to take full advantage of everything that Brolio has to offer, plan on spending some serious time there.

One thing that Brolio offers is a sunset tour.  We have never done it, but the idea of watching the sun go down over the Tuscan countryside is an attraction we might take up on another occasion, and spend the night in the village instead of driving back to wherever we stayed in the past.


Across Europe’s many wine growing regions there are regional cooperatives.  These are societies that produce wines under the name of the locality, in many cases well-known ones such as Chablis or Barbera. In other places, they’re little more than the village wine press.  The wines they produce, for the most part, are indicative of the style of that region.  And why not?  They are made from the same grapes that grow in that AOC, DOPG or whatever the local wine denomination may be.  In some instances, they make rather good wine at a very good price.  In others, the best wine available is pure plonk by any measure.

Why should a visitor to any particular corner of European Wine Country take the time to visit one of these cooperatives?  The answer depends a lot on how you approach wine tasting and how much time you have.

If you are the sort who only wants to taste the very best products of the European vines, by all means spend your time in Bordeaux, Tuscany and the Rioja.  Spend freely and drink deeply.  And to be sure, there is a time in every wine lover’s life when he or she should get to know what truly great wines taste like.

But if you also want to get to know the geography of a locale, who the people are and how they live, where they shop and what they drink, the cooperatives are a great place to start.  Very few people in Burgundy, for example, are drinking grand cru wines every night with dinner.  We doubt that even the Rothschilds are quaffing Lafitte with a plate of charcuterie.  And if you aren’t a baron, you probably don’t either.

A customer bringing his jug for a refill at the Coopérative d’Enserune in Languedoc, France.

What do the regular people in the small villages that dot the countryside do?  They bring empty bottles and jugs to the cooperative and fill them up at a spigot, much like putting gas in their cars.  The wine lists are not extensive: white, red and rosé are on offer, and often not all three if they’re not made locally.  These folks go to their homes, eat nice meals and drink nice wines and are quite happy doing so.  They’ll buy a good bottle every now and again for special occasions, but they don’t make a big deal about a pleasant beverage that accompanies their meals and their lives.  Even as a visitor, if you want a picnic or light meal on your hotel balcony, why not do like the locals do?

Another good reason to visit some – not all – cooperatives is to get an introduction into the grapes, winemaking methods and terroirs of the region.  In quite a few cases, one town may have a cooperative that’s almost a museum of their wines and the next one over is little more than an outlet store.  It’s a bit of a crap shoot and there isn’t much available even on the Internet to guide you before you get there.  Give a try, especially if you’re going to be in a town for a while.  The worst that will happen is that you’ll walk in, have a taste and leave.

La Chablisienne may be as famous for this poster as they are for their wines.

Finally, there are some cooperatives that make really good wine.  Often they make up a name for their labels so you won’t know they’re coop wines.  Rasteau makes Ortas; Chablis has La Chablisienne.  These are worth buying either while you’re there or if they show up in a local wine shop back home.

Editorial: Gary Farrell Winery, Again

We at Power Tasting always strive for journalistic accuracy in all our articles.  Sadly, sometimes we slip up.  But we always correct any errors we know of.

So, in our last issue we published a review of wine tasting at Gary Farrell Winery in Russian river Valley.  We received an appreciative note from Sam Folsom, a publicist for the winery.  Evidently, there were some significant changes made just after our last visit.

He informed us that Gary Farrell Winery opened their new tasting room, which was significantly redesigned and remodeled. They no longer have the tasting bar, which is shown in our story, and it is replaced by a series of comfortable seating options, which look out on the valley through a floor-to-ceiling window (the popular outdoor patio remains). As we noted, they are now open by appointment, and guests have a series of tasting and tour options to choose from.

The new Gary Farrell Winery Salon, created by architect Michael Guthrie, has a contemporary design with organic finishes and they tell us that it is welcoming and comfortable. Its center room is open and airy with a vaulted wood beam ceiling and dramatic, floor-to-ceiling canted windows that showcase a commanding view of the forested Russian River Valley. The popular outdoor terrace remains a centerpiece of the Gary Farrell Winery experience, around which the salon rooms are now arranged, but it has undergone a significant remodel with new furniture and seating arrangements, including oversized couches, as well as distinctive, vaulted shade sails.

We intend to re-visit in the near future.